Without W's, no progress, just promises
Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times, published 5 September 1994

Don't say, "Those SOBs." They're not the "Same Old Bucs." Following a 21-9 shortfall against the Chicago Bears, even the Tampa Bay excuses sounded different. "I'm discouraged about the loss," center Tony Mayberry said, "but encouraged by the mind-set. During the game, nobody ever quit thinking the win wasn't going to be there."

Progress, in non-victorious doses. "There was no defeatist attitude like in the past," the fifth-year pro from Wake Forest said. "But things keep happening to us. A dropped pass here, a bad refereeing call there. It's crazy. Almost like we're jinxed or something."

Or something. Okay, let's try being generous Tampa Bay-based football professors. Give the Bucs an "A" for attitude. But still, the overriding Sunday grade was an "L." An ugly but terribly familiar Buccaneer letter.

Heading into the NFL's well-hyped 75th season, this latest Tampa Bay floundering at Soldier Field makes you wonder: Has any team from the Canton Bulldogs until now ever had a game with zero turnovers where so many huge, suicidal mistakes were committed? Just a Bucs sampling . . .

Lonnie Marts neglects covering Chris Gedney, allowing Chicago's clinching touchdown. Jeff Brady jumps offside to wipe out a Tampa Bay interception in the end zone, allowing another Bears TD. Rudy Harris is charged with an illegal block that stripped the Bucs of a second-and-goal chance at the Chicago 1-yard line. Tampa Bay receivers fumble-finger four passes, including absolute touchdown opportunities by Horace Copeland and Willie Green. Looking like SOBs?

Nah, let's try a little Labor Day community compassion, my forever-flogged Tampa Bay friends. A dose of birth-of-a-new-season understanding. "One game," Mayberry would muse, scraping the cliche bucket, "does not a season make."

In that spirit, Sam Wyche was asked why he is so convinced these aren't SOBs, the Same Old Bucs who include the Tampa Bay head coach's 5-and-11 contingent from a year that began September getting smashed 27-3 against Kansas City, flunking 23-7 versus the New York Giants and being embarrassed 47-17 right here in Chicago. "This was not a butt-kicking," Wyche said of Sunday's 21-9 misfortune, "it was a dogfight." But why does the same old dog have to keep losing?

Look, I really want to believe Sam. Me and 2 1/2-million other Tampa Bay people. But nobody from Florida or Chicago or anywhere else on NFL Earth will believe for long that these aren't the SOBs unless the L's soon flip-flop into W's. "We're going to have a good running game," Wyche said after Vince Workman and rookie Errict Rhett found considerable Sunday holes against the Bears. "We're also going to throw the ball well. You won't continue to see the big, crippling mistakes we made against the Bears. This is a good Tampa Bay football team. We're going to have a good season."

It'll never happen if Bucs receivers continue to have more drops than a paratrooper platoon. Never happen if Tampa Bay keeps marching inside the enemy's 20-yard line, the Red Zone, only to offensively evaporate and settle for field-goal kicks. If this discussion were about the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins or Buffalo Bills, and not the long-underachieving Bucs, the concern over Sunday's game-blowing screwups wouldn't be so acute.

We'd be saying that the 'Boys, Niners, 'Fins or Bills probably would rebound to win next Sunday, heading for another upbeat season. But this is Tampa Bay, a team with an unsubsidingly depressing past that faces a uniquely desperate season. Bucs ownership future is in doubt. Tampa Stadium attendance is lousy. Since 1983, they've been losing games in double-digit bunches and chasing away customers by the disgruntled thousands.

W's are the only thing that will win back Tampa Bay patrons, and decrease chances of the franchise being unfairly put up for relocation to Baltimore or wherever. L's like Sunday's don't help, even if prospects flash brightly in Sam Wyche's eyes.